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About the U.S. Opioid Epidemic

U.S. Department of Health And Human Services  (HSS)

February 12, 2018

Understanding the Opioid Crisis

  • In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to opioid pain relievers and healthcare providers began to prescribe them at greater rates.
  • Increased prescription of opioid medications led to widespread misuse of both prescription and non-prescription opioids before it became clear that these medications could indeed be highly addictive.
  • In 2017 HHS declared a public health emergency and announced a 5-Point Strategy To Combat the Opioid Crisis

Opioid Crisis

Devastating consequences of the opioid epidemic include increases in opioid misuse and related overdoses, as well as the rising incidence of newborns experiencing withdrawal syndrome due to opioid use and misuse during pregnancy.

Opioid Overdose

Opioid overdoses accounted for more than 42,000 deaths in 2016, more than any previous year on record. An estimated 40% of opioid overdose deaths involved a prescription opioid.

Why do Adults Misuse Prescription Drugs?

Policymakers can use this information from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health to help inform substance abuse prevention and treatment needs in their communities.

Epidemic Data & Statistics

As reflected in the latest mortality data from CDC, deaths from drug overdose are up among both men and women, all races, and adults of nearly all ages.

U.S. Opioid Epidemic: Data Overview

Opioid-involved deaths are continuing to increase in the United States. More than three out of five drug overdose deaths involve an opioid.

Drug Overdose Death Data

Opioids—prescription and illicit—are the main driver of drug overdose deaths. Opioids were involved in 42,249 deaths in 2016, and opioid overdose deaths were five times higher in 2016 than in 1999.

U.S. Prescribing Rate Maps

The data in the maps show the geographic distribution in the United States, at both state and county levels, of retail opioid prescriptions dispensed per 100 people from 2006 to 2016.

CDC One-Stop Location for Online Public Health Data

Access statistical research data published by CDC, as well as reference materials, reports and guidelines on health-related topics

Dramatic Increases in Maternal Opioid Use and Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

Use of opiates during pregnancy can result in a drug withdrawal syndrome in newborns called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). There was a five-fold increase in the proportion of babies born with NAS from 2000 to 2012

Prescription Painkiller Overdoses

Reports on detailing various aspects of the health threat and what can be done to drive down the problem. Each issue includes a graphic fact sheet and website, a media release, and social media tools.

Monitoring the Future: 2017 Teen Survey Results on Drug and Alcohol Use and Attitudes

Misuse of all prescription opioids among 12th graders has dropped dramatically in the past 15 years, from 9.6 percent in 2002 to 2.0 percent in 2017 despite high opioid overdose rates among adults.

Federal Response to the Opioid Epidemic

In response to the opioid crisis, HHS is focusing its efforts on five major priorities:

  1. Better addiction prevention, treatment and recovery services
  2. Better targeting of overdose reversing drugs
  3. Better data
  4. Better pain management
  5. Better research

All Scientific Hands on Deck to End the Opioid Crisis

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is joining with private partners to launch an initiative in three research areas to address the Opioid crisis: overdose reversal, addiction treatment and pain management.

News and Actions related to Opioid Medications

Information on all FDA actions and announcements related to reducing the impact of misuse and abuse of opioid medications.

Testimony on the Federal Response to the Opioid Crisis

Officials from CDC, FDA, SAMHSA, and NIH appeared before Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in October 2017 to report on HHS activities in response to the Opioid Crisis.

Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force

The Task Force, which was called for by the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016, is assigned the following responsibilities:

  • Determining whether there are gaps or inconsistencies in pain management best practices among federal agencies,
  • Proposing recommendations on addressing gaps or inconsistencies,
  • Providing the public with an opportunity to comment on any proposed recommendations, and
  • Developing a strategy for disseminating information about best practices.

National Pain Strategy: A Comprehensive Population Health-Level Strategy for Pain

This strategy outlines the federal government’s first coordinated plan for reducing the burden of chronic pain that affects millions of Americans. A diverse team of experts from around the nation drafted the National Pain Strategy as a roadmap toward achieving a system of care in which all people receive appropriate, high quality, and evidence-based care for pain.

Healthy People 2020: Medical Product Safety Objectives

The federal government prevention initiative includes an objective called Medical Product Safety that focuses on overall improvement of patient treatment and appropriate use of medical products for pain management. This includes appropriate use of prescription drugs.

National Action Plan for Adverse Drug Event Prevention (ADE Action Plan)

Strategy to reduce patient harms from adverse drug events (ADEs). One of the broader goals is to engage leaders at the federal, state, and local levels to implement evidence-based guidelines and engage in strategies that will help to prevent ADEs.

HHS Releases Guidance for Syringe Services Programs

This March 29, 2016, blog post on covers the new guidance to support implementation of a change in law that makes it possible for grantees to use federal funds to support operational components of Syringe Service Programs (SSPs).

Attacking the Opioid Crisis Head On with Health IT

Find links to a variety of health IT solutions that address prescription drug misuse, abuse, and diversion, as well as information on national efforts to promote PDMP-Health IT integration, electronic prescribing of controlled substances and clinical decision support tools.

State Responses to the Opioid Epidemic

What States Need to Know About the Epidemic

Through the Overdose Prevention in States (OPIS) effort, CDC is working with 45 states and Washington D.C. to provide scientific expertise, enhanced surveillance activities, and support resources.

HHS, SAMHSA to maintain funding formula for $1B opioid grant program

HHS and SAMHSA will maintain the Opioid State Targeted Response (STR) grant funding allocation formula for the second year of the program. Find out more about the federal grants available at the Grants Learning Center.

2017 State Profiles Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction

Full details for each state's certified opioid treatment programs and providers who are certified to practice medication-assisted therapy for opioid use disorder. Provides data on the number of patients; treatment type (maintenance and/or detoxification); and accreditation.

Sample State-Level Logic Models to Reduce the Non-Medical use of Related Consequences of Opioids 

SAMHSA offers states two approaches for developing an action plan to address opioid-related problems or goals. The first model focuses on the consequences of heroin consumption—specifically fatal overdose. The second addresses the consumption of opioids, with a focus on the non-medical use of prescription opioids.

Facts and Recommendations for State, Local, and Tribal Governments

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